“Freaky Friday” musical rehearsals continue amidst uncertainty, excitement

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Photo provided by Demetrios Pappageorge

“OH, BIOLOGY”: Cast members of “Freaky Friday” carry on rehearsing through the unpredictability of COVID-19.

Tabitha Irvin, Staff Writer

Downers Grove North High School will perform Freaky Friday for its annual and highly anticipated spring musical, a well-known Disney film that was later adapted into a musical in 2016. This energetic and sentimental show takes place in a Chicago suburb and features a largely female cast. So far, DGN students and staff involved in the musical have found the experience to be challenging yet energizing. 

For Katherine and Ellie Blake, a mother and daughter duo, understanding each other seems like an impossible feat. One Friday however, just a day before Katherine’s wedding, the two women find themselves to have magically switched bodies. Forced to walk in each other’s shoes, Ellie and her mom bravely forge a new relationship centered around empathy and love. 

“The message of Freaky Friday is really about finding perspective. Moms, daughters, dads, and sons all need a little help right now seeing how hard everyone is working to keep life going and hope alive,” English teacher and musical director Demetrios Pappageorge said. “Since this story is about a mother and daughter who fail to see each other’s points of view and who ultimately switch places, this show is absolutely perfect. In order to get through this weird phase of history, we all need a little more perspective, understanding, patience, and love.”

With rehearsals for the production currently underway, the fluid nature of pandemic restrictions has caused much uncertainty in the minds of the actors, crew, pit-orchestra, and directors alike. Musical coordinators are still unsure whether the musical will be performed inside the auditorium with moderated audience control, outside as a drive-by, or in a virtual setting. 

Rehearsals have occurred both over Zoom and in-person, which adds chaos to the already complicated musical endeavor. While choreography, staging, and pit-orchestra rehearsals take place in-person, due to large group restrictions, singing rehearsals have been entirely online. While the vocal director, Frank Piekarz, does his best to teach via Zoom, many cast members find the online rehearsals more difficult than expected. 

“One of the biggest challenges is the fact that we currently cannot have vocal rehearsals in-person. In years past, we would spend the first week or so of rehearsal learning all of the music, and it was always so amazing to hear so many beautiful voices coming together,” senior Renee Boone said. “Since we are all remote for these rehearsals, we can’t hear any other singers. Because of that, I honestly find it a little more difficult to learn my part.”

Boone is one of two actresses cast in the role of Ellie Blake, the lead female character. Unlike in usual years, all of the leads have been double cast, a decision made in case of potential COVID-19 exposures and quarantines. There will also be four shows rather than three, allowing each cast to perform twice. 

Pit-orchestra’s rehearsals and performance plans have also drastically changed due to COVID-19. Per CDC guidelines, wind instrumentalists can only practice for 30 minutes before relocating; due to this, pit rehearsals are sometimes less organized and productive than students and staff would like. The pit will also need to work closely with the sound technicians, as their songs will either be prerecorded or piped into the performance. Despite these new challenges, orchestral musicians have remained positive and excited about the musical. 

“We can’t do a lot of our orchestra traditions which is really sad to me, because this is my fourth year and the traditions are some of the most fun parts, as they bring people together. This year, we just started something new where we participate in theme days,” senior Paige Sadler said. “Change isn’t always bad, even though it’s a little frightening. Family isn’t about what you do, it’s about who you’re with. And we’re all still together.”

Crew members working on Freaky Friday have also been given new and extra responsibilities, such as moving and sanitizing all of the used props and organizing the prop cage. Junior Connor Daemicke, one of the prop supervisors for Freaky Friday, has found that organization and communication are of utmost importance to the success of the musical. 

“When it comes to working on the show, we’ve adjusted to working under these new restrictions so we don’t get completely stressed out by them. Some other people [and I] will move sets and props. And, some of stage management will clean everything [each] night. We’ll also keep a running list of items, or props, that are touched by multiple people, and clean them before they get touched in the next scene,” Daemicke said. 

Senior Molly Doherty acts as the official stage manager for the show, a difficult position rarely offered at DGN. 

“I have to write where everyone’s going on the stage at all times and where the set is. If somebody asks me where they’re supposed to be at their exact line, I should know. I have a sheet of notes that I relay to the crew and another sheet of where every single actor has to be at all times. It’s a lot, but it’s super fun,” Doherty said. 

As director, Pappageorge finds blocking scenes to be extremely difficult; social distancing and mask-wearing severely limit interaction, expression, and movement. 

“Relationships, like the romance between one of our main characters Kate and her fiance Mike, are tough to stage. Not only is a peck on the cheek considered dangerous, but it would look ridiculous while wearing a mask and attempting to do it from six feet away. And the eating scenes are awkward as well. So developing stage pictures and visual metaphors is a bit like trying to build a small dollhouse using boulders and ten-foot poles,” Pappageorge said. 

However, like with any other challenge, the actors and actresses have continued to remain optimistic. So far, every obstacle preventing the success of Freaky Friday has been met with a proactive response and enthusiastic positivity. Many individuals have also found new ways to learn and improve from the unique rehearsal experience. 

“Instead of just reacting to a scene with different facial expressions, we are learning to use our bodies and gestures to give off the same reactions. This is something that I haven’t spent a ton of time on in the past, so it has been amazing learning more about it,” Boone said. 

The cast, crew, pit, and staff of Freaky Friday have remained excited and joyful throughout the first couple weeks of musical rehearsal. It was the first rehearsal, however, that had a profound impact on most students and teachers involved. Daemicke shared that interacting with the Freaky Friday community has been and continues to be his main source of support and happiness. 

“Mr. Moses and the people who do theater with me have helped me so much; just being around people helps me go on,” Daemicke said. 

Doherty, also closely connected to the musical community, shares similar feelings to that of her classmate. 

“The first rehearsal was insane. I described it to one of my friends as electricity; I felt like I just got shocked. It’s the feeling that I get right before a show, but it’s the first rehearsal. It’s the second rehearsal. It’s every rehearsal,” Doherty said. 

Everyone involved in the musical Freaky Friday has made it clear it will be more than a DGN musical. The show hopes to encapsulate the wonders and rebirth of human connection, an experience that the community and larger world are beginning to understand again.